Once again, the world seems on the brink of destruction. Pandemics, terrorism, nuclear threats. Could this be the end?
It probably isn’t, but it is an excellent time to discuss “the hour of testing” that Jesus mentioned in his letter to the church in Philadelphia:
Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. (Revelation 3:10)
What is the hour of testing that is coming on the whole world? And how do we prepare for it?
The coming hour of testing
The hour of testing is a reference to Judgment Day. When Jesus returns, everything will be tested. Sometimes Judgement Day is called a day; other times it is called an hour:
Fear God, and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come (Revelation 14:7)
Note that the hour of testing is NOT a prophetic reference to the Roman destruction of Judea. The hour (or day) of testing (or judgment) affects the whole world.
Nor is this a warning for the church. When the judgment comes, those things that are opposed to Christ will be shaken, but the believer who has been tested and approved in Christ will stand firm.
There is some illuminating context that helps us unpack these words from the Lord.
Philadelphia and a dozen other cities were badly damaged in the great Lydian Earthquake of AD17. For years afterward, Philadelphia experienced nerve-wracking aftershocks. The city was “ever subject to earthquakes,” said Strabo the geographer.
To someone raised in the earthquake-prone region of Lydia, the hour of testing would evoke anxious memories of earthquakes and houses falling down. When Jesus says such an hour is coming on the whole world, they might imagine a global shaking, and they would not be far wrong.
Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens. (Hebrews 12:26)
But the good news is that Jesus promises to protect the Philadelphians from the coming hour of testing. They won’t experience it.
I will keep you from the hour of testing
Some twist our Savior’s encouraging words into a Christian fitness test.
“You have to persevere and endure to be saved. You have to keep Christ’s commands and maintain an erect and noble bearing under pressure. Fail to persevere and you risk punishment, even damnation.”
Talk about putting an old covenant spin on a new covenant promise. We are not kept from the coming trial because we endure; we are kept because Christ has endured.
You have kept the word of my perseverance.
The “word of my perseverance” is the good news that Jesus has persevered and overcome the world. It’s the joyful revelation that because Jesus has done it all, you have nothing to prove.
It is believing in Jesus and his finished work. It’s guarding the truth, continuing in the faith, and staying settled on the rock. It is refusing to be tempted into the dead works of religion and unbelief.
Like some of the other New Testament churches, the Philadelphians had been pressured to accept another gospel, one that emphasized ritual observance of the law. But the Philadelphians didn’t listen. They continued in the grace of God and remained true to Christ.
Instead of filling their minds with fear and uncertainty, they filled their hearts with praise and thanksgiving. Although their world was shaking, the Philadelphians remain rock-steady.
Jesus took note. He saw their faith and responded by giving them one golden promise after another. Perhaps no other church in the Bible received as many good promises as the Philadelphians.
Surely God wants to bless all of us, but some of us are too busy stressing to hear what he has to say. We see the turmoil and the uncertainty, and our flesh reacts like Chicken Little.
Take a note from the faithful Philadelphians. See above the present troubles to the Alpha and Omega. Our times are in his hands.
Let his promises be in our hearts and may his praises be on our lips.
Want to learn more about the Philadelphians? Check out Paul’s book Letters from Jesus.